'Color' Revolutions Wane ; Russia Asserts Its Influence Ahead of Elections in Belarus and Ukraine This Month
Fred Weir Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Two key former Soviet states - Belarus and Ukraine - head into elections this month amid dramatic accusations of planned coups, state coercion, and vote-fixing.
But Moscow isn't worried.
Instead, there is a sense of calm and fresh confidence here that contrasts sharply with the Kremlin's panicky reactions to the surge of "colored revolts" that swept through the region in recent years. That revolutionary wave - which began with Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution and continued with Ukraine's Orange Revolution - seemed unstoppable just a year ago, when Krygyz President Askar Akayev was overthrown.
But the inability of new leaders to fulfill revolutionary pledges, together with the failure of popular pressure to effect change in other Soviet satellite states, has opened the way for Moscow to reassert its influence in the region.
"Those upsurges were the response of people to bad governance and worsening conditions, and the new leaders that came in have shown themselves unable to offer improvements," says Gennady Chuffrin, deputy director of the official Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow. "Ukraine could even see a reversal of what happened a year ago. Obviously the Kremlin would like to see a weakening of [Ukrainian President Viktor] Yushchenko, and I think that's what's going to happen."
Ukraine's economic decline and disillusionment have propelled the pro-Moscow opposition party into first place in opinion surveys for parliamentary elections on March 26. In an ironic twist, the opposition leader Mr. Yanukovych, who was forced out of power after being accused of rigging Ukraine's 2004 presidential election in his favor, claims the authorities are preparing to steal the polls. "The orange team can only remain in power through massive falsifications, and this is what they are doing," he said last week.
According to a survey conducted last week by the Institute of Social and Political Psychology in Kiev, Ukraine, Yanukovych's Party of Regions leads with 27 percent support, followed by former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Bloc with 19 percent and Mr. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine movement with 17 percent.
If the elections bring in a deeply split parliament, it could lead to an extended political crisis that would play into Moscow's hands. A January gas blockade by Russia appears to have deepened Ukraine's economic slump while strengthening the hand of the pro- Moscow Yanukovych.
"We can make Ukraine strong and rich, because democracy is impossible in a poor country," Yanukovych told his campaign workers last week. "Unlike the present leadership, we will not build our strategy to the detriment of relations with Russia."
In Belarus, good relations with Russia are not an issue. The Kremlin will try to put the best face on President Alexander Lukashenko's almost certain third-term victory in polls slated for March 19. But even Russian experts who support the Belarussian leader refrain from calling the election process democratic.
Two candidates running against Lukashenko, Alexander Kozulin and Alexander Milinkevich, have been all but barred from media and their rallies have been broken up by force. …